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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

'Peter the Great' welcomes the G20 to St. Petersburg

Peter the Great welcomes visitors to St. Petersburg/Patricia Leslie

I hope President Obama does not cancel his trip to St. Petersburg, Russia for the G20 over the Syria mess for after all, how can you communicate if you don't communicate?

St. Petersburg welcomes the G20/Patricia Leslie
Peter the Great (1672-1725) on his horse on a very big rock stands ready on the banks of the Neva to welcome the G20 members to St. Petersburg, truly one of the world's loveliest cities, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, the "Venice of the North" for its cultural opportunities and beautiful canals, reminiscent of the real Venice.

Peter the Great in St. Petersburg/Patricia Leslie
The inscription in Latin on one side and in Russian on the other side of the stone reads:  Peter the First, Catherine the Second, 1782/Patricia Leslie

The revered (almost as much as Lenin, it seems) Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin (1799-1837) wrote the poem, The Bronze Horseman, about the statue of Peter who founded St. Petersburg in 1703. (I would include the English text of the poem, however and alas, "This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions," but it is found in Russian at

Orest Adamovich Kiprensky (1782-1836), Aleksandr Pushkin (1827),Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow/Patricia Leslie

From a distance Peter the Great seemed smaller than expected.  Beyond the statue is the Neva River and in the distance is the Menshikov Palace/Patricia Leslie

It is almost criminal to visit St. Petersburg without having read
Peter the Great by Robert K. Massie published in 1981. Indeed, the Fairfax County Public Library has only three copies which are never on the shelves, always checked out and reserved, no doubt partially due to Massie's 2012 Catherine the Great, also required reading to truly enjoy the magnificence and scope of the history of Russia, its tsars, their legacies, and the possessions they left behind. And it was because of these two books, honestly, that I went to Russia. (Reading Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra was a factor, too.  Forced by books. They made me do it. This has happened to me before.)

The Neva River separates Peter the Great and the Menshikov Palace (reddish roof)/Patricia Leslie

Peter the Great on the banks of the Neva River, St. Petersburg, Russia.  The Russian flag flies on top of the government building across the street/Patricia Leslie

Catherine the Great commissioned
the statute to honor the 100th anniversary of Peter's coronation. She, always happy to glorify Western Europe as was Peter, hired a French sculptor, Etienne Maurice Falconet (1716-1791) to create the piece. (Russia didn’t have sculptors? Rather like the U.S. which went to China to hire one for the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue.)

Peter the Great on the banks of the Neva River, St. Petersburg, Russia/Patricia Leslie

Peter the Great on the banks of the Neva River, St. Petersburg, Russia with a slain snake with its multiple interpretations/Patricia Leslie
Peter the Great on the banks of the Neva River, St. Petersburg, Russia/Patricia Leslie

The stone on which Peter stands has its own history and is sometimes called the Thunder Stone. It was found 3.7 miles inland from the Gulf of Finland and hauled painstakingly by 400 men who laid and relaid track and worked nine months to carry it to St. Petersburg in what is still known as the largest stone moved by man without animals or machinery. The whole transfer to the statue site took two years.

Hauling of the Thunder Stone for the monument to Peter the Great. Engraving by I.F. Schley of the drawing by Y.M. Felton (Yury Felten), 1770/Wikipedia

Falconet worked on the project for 12 years before his inability to please the madam,  exhaustion and exasperation led him to leave four years before the statue was completed. His absence at the dedication on August 7, 1782 received attention and is noted on the sign at the entrance to the park where the statue stands. Massie provides lots more detail.

About 150 years after the dedication, citizens covered Peter with sandbags and a wooden shelter to hide the statue from 900 days of Nazi attack and bombs.  The monument escaped the siege undamaged.

The camouflage of Peter the Great during World War II/Wikipedia
Having a little knowledge of the statue’s background, I was mysteriously drawn to it every day while I was in St. Petersburg. It lies in close proximity to St. Isaac’s Cathedral, itself a landmark whose gilded dome can be seen for miles around town.

St. Isaac's Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia/Patricia Leslie

St. Petersburg, Russia welcomes the G20/Patricia Leslie

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